Budget. It’s the dreaded word of personal finance. Say it and people will tell you how much they despise it.
The statistics bear this out: A 2017 study from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that one out of every five people surveyed said that putting together a budget was too much of a hassle.
But is budgeting really that bad?
When I was younger and money was tight, having a budget felt like wearing a straitjacket. It was a constant reminder of what I couldn’t afford: nights out, new clothes, a new car or meals other than beans and rice. However, I was thinking about it the wrong way.
Now, I see a budget as a way to afford what I want in life, not as a limitation on what I can do. This is also how Jason Vitug, founder of financial information site Phroogal, views budgeting.
“A budget is a blueprint to help you get where you want to go or the life you want to live,” he said.
A recent GOBankingRates survey found that low salaries and living paycheck to paycheck is why most Americans don’t have enough money saved. The cost of living isn’t going to go down anytime soon, but if you can create and stick to a realistic budget, you’ll be able to make the most of what you have.
Budgeting Helped Me Decide What I Really Valued — and What I Didn’t
People often look at a budget as something that curtails the things they enjoy, Vitug said. That’s because they’re looking at the process as a way to cut back on spending. But cutting back on spending doesn’t necessarily mean eliminating all the things you enjoy; it means cutting the things that don’t add any real value or enjoyment to your life.
“We spend and overspend on things that do not add value to our lives,” Vitug said. To start the budgeting process, you have to figure out what you actually value.
Don’t compare your values to your friends’ and family members’ values, though. For example, a friend might tell you to stop buying daily lattes if you want to reduce spending. But what if coffee is something you really value and enjoy?
“If it gives you the perk you need to go through your day, who am I to tell you to cut Starbucks coffee from your life?” said Vitug.
Just remember to ask yourself whether the thing you want to buy — whether it’s a Frappuccino or a new pair of shoes — is something you really enjoy or just mindless consumption. If it’s the latter, it’s not something you value, nor will it help you achieve the life you want.
“Think about the vision for your life, all your hopes and dreams and crafting an ideal lifestyle you want to live,” said Vitug. “That is your destination.”
So perhaps what you want most is to someday start your own business or retire early. Or, maybe you want to live a life of luxury.
For example, I value family vacations because I value spending time with my kids. And because I want to be able to retire, saving for retirement is a priority for me. I treat it as a necessary expense along with food, utilities and my mortgage. In fact, all of my priorities — such as paying off my credit card balance every month, having the cash to cover travel costs, etc. — are where my money goes first each month.
Knowing what you value — and why — can help you set goals and motivate you to budget.
Budgeting Helped Me Prioritize My Spending
If you’re budgeting just for the sake of budgeting, it’s hard to stay motivated. That’s why it’s important to first figure out what you value and want in life. Then, with a budget, you can allocate the money you earn toward the things you value most, said Vitug.
So, let’s say the life you want involves being able to travel around the world. You can create a budget that includes setting aside a certain amount at the beginning of each month to reach that goal. If you have several goals, you’ll have to rank them accordingly so you can figure out whether they can fit within your budget.
But what if there’s not enough room in your budget to achieve your goals? Rather than think about what you need to cut, ask yourself where you can reallocate your money, says Vitug. In other words: “Increase awareness to spend on things that matter.”
Before making your next purchase, ask yourself if it will help you reach your goals — or just leave you with less money. Maybe you really like unwinding by watching TV at night, but your dream is to travel around the world. That $100 or so you’re spending each month on cable is $100 less you have saved for traveling. So, is it worth delaying your dream to watch your favorite show?
I often ask myself whether a purchase — especially a big-ticket item — is worth it. I’m not going to lie: I value having a nice home, especially because I work from home and spend most of my day at my house. And sure, going out to eat every week would be nice. And who wouldn’t want to upgrade to the newest iPhone?
But some things are simply not worth the money. My husband and I didn’t buy the biggest house we could afford because we didn’t want a large percentage of our monthly income going toward our mortgage. Instead of indulging in fancy dinners, I remind myself that I’d rather have more money to pay for my kids’ activities, such as art classes and tennis lessons. The money spent on an iPhone could help pay for my family’s next vacation, and I’m going to benefit a lot more from putting an extra $100 into savings than paying for cable TV.
By knowing what I value and where I want my money to go, I don’t think of limiting my spending as limiting my enjoyment of life. Instead, tracking my spending and aligning my budget with what I value has actually helped me achieve the life I want.
Click through to read more about the best budgeting apps to help get you started.
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